Interview: Augmented Reality Climbing Games

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Climball, one of the many games offered by Augmented Climbing Wall. Photo: Augmented Climbing Wall

Climball, one of the many games offered by Augmented Climbing Wall. Photo: Augmented Climbing Wall

While the rest of us have been playing add-on at the gym, the folks at Augmented Climbing Wall have taken climbing-based games to a new level. First launched as a research project in Finland, the Augmented Climbing Wall became an internet sensation after videos of the interactive games hit the web. With a camera, projector, and computer software, the project’s developers have created an interactive game of plastic pulling. We spoke to CEO Raine Kajastila about the platform and its development.

Describe the Augmented Climbing Wall.

Raine Kajastila: It combines motion tracking and projected graphics to create fun but challenging interactive games, as well as more serious training applications. Basically, you can point our system at an ordinary climbing wall and turn it into a huge touchscreen and gaming platform.

What sparked the idea?

When I was a post-doc researcher, I studied how technology can be used to motivate people to exercise more, or teach specific skills in sports. There was an obvious match between the technology and climbing, which I’ve been practicing for over 15 years. The first demo videos back in 2013 sparked interest in other climbers around the world, and I was begged to make it as a commercial product.

Augmented Problems. Photo: Augmented Climbing Wall

Augmented Problems. Photo: Augmented Climbing Wall

Were there any unexpected challenges bringing Augmented Climbing to market?

One thing that slowed the time to market was finding out that even dust-protected projectors are killed by fine magnesium dust (Ed.: chalk). After destroying several projectors, we designed a protective enclosure for the projector that filters out magnesium.

What's your favorite climbing game?

I like the simplicity of Whack-a-Bat, which has been an instant hit among kids and adults alike. It was developed as an endless endurance trainer, but we quickly added more hectic game modes. But, you can’t beat the two-player ball game Climball, which is just something you don’t expect to do on a climbing wall.

Does the Augmented Wall offer any unique training benefits?

Yes, especially Augmented Problems. It allows anybody—not just professional route-setters—to design routes quickly and share them with others. However, the greatest training feature is the automatic video feedback that’s projected on the wall. You can instantly compare your climbing technique to others and learn from it.

Whack-a-Bat. Photo: Augmented Climbing Wall

Whack-a-Bat. Photo: Augmented Climbing Wall

Does the best rock climber always win?

Not always. Of course, being strong and fast helps you concentrate better on the game. But there are also random components that give everyone the potential for high scores. Also, I think that climbing is about competing against yourself and finding creative ways to solve problems, whether they’re augmented or traditional.

How large can the walls be?

Currently, the maximum dimensions are about 12 by 15 feet. We have been doing some development for higher walls—but, shhh, it’s a secret.

How has interest been so far?

We have already received many orders from the United States. In November 2016, the Augmented Wall was featured in the amusement-park exposition (IAAPA) in Florida. At least there, the customers were mostly indoor play and activity parks. These places are perfect for introducing kids to climbing, and what better way than with games? 

Sparks. Photo: Augmented Climbing Wall

Sparks. Photo: Augmented Climbing Wall

The Games

Climball

Climber pong. Grab a partner and hop on the wall. A floating ball bounces off the holds you touch. Play collaboratively, trying to keep the ball from touching the borders, or competitively, trying to hit the ball into your partner’s side to score points.

Augmented Problems

Using the touchscreen interface, create a route by highlighting holds of your choosing. After climbing, watch yourself re-climb it via the projector or touchscreen.

Whack-a-Bat

As with whack-a-mole, you whack bats off the wall with your hands and feet. You’ll have to stay on the wall a long time and move quickly to rack up the points.

Sparks

Climb through mazes of electricity, both static and dynamic. Don’t cross the lines, or you’ll be “electrocuted.”

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